Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sometimes we just can't help but wonder...Who IS in charge?

Many years ago during a summer when my sister and I swapped the babysitting responsibilities of our younger siblings each day, my two year old sister was found on the opposite side of our subdivision. Not only was she completely alone, she was also completely naked. She had wandered from the house and begun her toddler-streaking stroll about the neighborhood unnoticed. Our house though lacking any adult supervision was always brimming with neighborhood kids and our other siblings. We were probably too young for the responsibility—okay, obviously too young. Nonetheless it was one given us because of extreme circumstances and we did our best. But on this day we did not know until we looked up from our playing in the back bedroom to see the crooked frame of Mrs. Sylvester and her white plume of hair. Like a dandelion gone to seed she stood gripping my baby sister’s sticky fingers with a grasp surprisingly strong for someone so overtaken by arthritis. “Who is in charge here?” She demanded. Who is in charge here? A fair question considering she did find a two year old very unattended and very naked wandering the rural streets of northern Georgia. There’s no telling what moonshine drinking, overall wearing, toothless old man might have come along and snagged her for permanent servitude in the corn distilling industry of the hills. But really, who was in charge? Where were our momma and daddy on that day? Where was a responsible babysitter on that day? Those are questions that merit their asking. And I can answer. My mother was working. Hard. And I’ll not criticize the decisions she made for had I been in her shoes I don’t know how I ever would have survived. Life is not always full of white picket fences and fairy tale endings and my mother’s story at that time was not any of those things. She was up long before us and to bed long after us. She worked. She went to school. She cooked. She cleaned. She chauffeured. She washed laundry. She cared for five girls. Like I said, my mom was working. Of course to say my poor sister and I had a wake up call that day would be an obvious understatement. From then on we knew we needed to be more vigilant—especially with our youngest siblings who were still such babies. When I remember that day though, what still strikes me is that very first question—Who’s in charge here? Sometimes when we look at our lives they are disturbingly, shockingly not the way they should be. No little girl should be found roaming the streets because nobody noticed her tiny naked bottom as it shuffled out the door and down the driveway. Should marriages break up because nobody noticed a naked heart roaming out the door from years of neglect? Should bodies bulge because nobody noticed the ridiculous amount of unhealthy food being consumed to comfort emotional distress? Should relationships become strained like tires whose tread has worn to the metal because nobody noticed the feelings that were trampled on carelessly and then left to rot like wet autumn leaves on a mountain trail? When I look across the faces of the people in my world and see hunger, disease, bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, bitterness, fear, pain, disappointment, loss, death, hurt, confusion, unforgiveness, and baggage, baggage and more baggage I want to scream out to the heavens, “Who is in charge?” These are good people who have tried their best. These are people who have obeyed, have followed God, have surrendered and still their lives are falling apart like dollar store Christmas stockings. There have been moments when I’ve held my arms up to the heavens and called out, “Tell me, God, WHO is in charge? Because from where I’m standing this isn’t right. This is not how it was supposed to be, God.” He always listens and catches my tears before He whispers, “Of course it isn’t.” We all know our world is a far cry from God’s intention when He placed Adam and Eve amidst a garden who’s valleys were covered in blue bonnets not divorce and whose mountains were red with Autumn maples not the bloodshed of unborn babies and war ravaged nations. Do we not realize that were we to count every drop of rain that fell from the heavens we would not yet reach the total of the tears I am sure God has wept on our behalf. We were and still remain His creation—a people made not just in love but in His very image. But we have not been watching. And in the meantime, there is nakedness and shame roaming the streets of our lives. On that day when my sister and I faced the accusing pointing finger of Mrs. Sylvester we knew we had failed. Of that there was no question and we didn’t even offer a defense. I’ll be truthful—it was her day to be in charge and the very first words from my mouth were my sister’s full name. I called out her name and pointed directly at her with bold accusation. No way was I going to take responsibility for this when it wasn’t my day to be in charge! If I could go back I would do it differently. I’d have walked up to my baby sister and grabbed her hand. I’d have thanked Mrs. Sylvester and told her it wouldn’t happen again, and I’d have sat down with a stack of books a mile high and begun to read to that sweet little girl. But I don’t get a do over and the truth is that I pinned the blame on my sister because it was her official day to be in charge. Aren’t we like that? When the walls crumble and the facades are all seen through, when the truth of our lives finally rears it’s ugly face we are so quick to point a finger at someone else. It isn’t my fault this happened. If he or she had done this or that we’d never have been in this situation. It’s never our fault. We always want to shift the blame to someone else. But here’s the thing—it’s not about fault or blame. It’s about who will take responsibility from here on out to see that they conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the image of our Creator. That’s what it’s about. When we ask who failed, we ask the wrong question. What we need to ask is “Who is willing now to stand up and get it right?” When you and I die we will not answer for the person who was supposed to be in charge, we’ll not answer for our sisters, our brothers or our spouses. We’ll not answer for our employers, employees, negligent banks, friends, parents or anyone else. We will answer only for ourselves. But the thing is that when we’re confronted with the sometimes harsh truths of our lives we don’t like accepting responsibility. Maybe that’s because we’re filled with pride and don’t like admitting that we bombed. Just today my boys were outside playing football. They were utterly engrossed in their game and one of them just couldn’t bare the thought of stopping to use the restroom. You know how this tale ends—we had a little accident. And here’s the funny part—that little man immediately blamed it on his other brother. He insisted that had the other brother not been playing football with him he never would have had the accident! I about laughed out loud. We just hate accepting responsibility for our choices and decisions when they go awry. The thing about that kind of pride is that it fails to recognize that apart from God we can do nothing. Of course we bomb when we are not functioning under the umbrella of God’s Word. Of course we experience mayhem when we’re in a marriage where one partner lives outside of God’s will. It’s never fun for the partner who is obeying God, but the reality is that anytime we are in a relationship or situation where one person fails to obey God or operate their life within the framework of God’s standards we will experience fallout whether or not we are the offending party. My little sister at two years of age was in no way responsible for opening that door and walking into harms way. But the two older sisters who were not carrying out our responsibility certainly were on the hook for what happened. The sad reality is that had some predator been in our neighborhood that day our little sister would have experienced a dreadful consequence of our failure to keep our eyes on her at all times. Unfortunately that happens to obedient Christians all the time. And every single time it is tragic. Every single time it happens we want to know again and again who IS in charge? And if Jesus could with nail-scarred hands pry back the sun like paper and peer out from behind that yellow ball I believe He’d say, “Dad’s in charge. And He’s working.” He’s working. Oh how we need to hear that. How we need to believe those two simple words and repeat them over and over every single time we are plagued with questions and doubts. Philippians 1:6 says “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” God began a work in our lives and He will not quit, will not falter, will not slumber, will not retire, will not give up or give in. His promise is that He WILL complete the very work He began in our lives. Psalm 115 says “Not to us, O Lord, not to us! But to your name bring honor, for the sake of your loyal love and faithfulness. Why should the nations say, “Where is their God? Our God is in heaven!” I love the idea that it’s God’s reputation at stake when we face daunting storms in our lives. When we are the little girl being returned to our home completely vulnerable and afraid and someone asks who in the world is responsible for this? Without hesitation or question we can boldly proclaim, “God Almighty is in charge and He is already at work to restore to us those things that were lost.” The only difference between a believer and a non believer in this life is that the believer can say with complete confidence, “My God is in heaven! He lives and He is working in my life all things for my good.” We may not be able to see any good that can come from circumstances in our lives, but if good is promised in God’s word then we WILL experience that goodness. We will. And we must live like we believe our God has eyes to see and ears to hear the situations and circumstances of our lives. Psalm 115 goes on to say, “You loyal followers of the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their deliverer and protector. The Lord takes notice of us, he will bless—he will bless the family of Israel, he will bless the family of Aaron. He will bless his loyal followers, both young and old.” These are words we can stand on, cling to, breath and live by when we want desperately to question whether God is really in control of our lives. He is, a thousand times over, He is. And if God is in control then without question the outcome will be for our eternal good. May we learn that truth in our life is God. So often we get confused and think that the present reality of our lives is the end. If it is reality, then it is truth we assume. But actually the truth is God amidst every single facet of our lives. And that truth is good—all the time. Lord, help us to stand on truth. Help us to stand on you God, knowing that you are good. Knowing that you are faithful. Knowing that your love for us is everlasting. Knowing that in the very center of the greatest trials of our lives, You stand calm and speaking peace into our spirits. Thank you for being an “ever-present help in times of trouble.” Help us to accept responsibility for our actions and trust that You are greater than all of our mistakes and You are even greater still than the mistakes that befall us at the hands of others. Amen. (P.S. I changed Mrs. Sylvester's name)

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